Understanding and Promoting Resilience in the Context of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Abstract

Brain development in the early years is especially susceptible to toxic stress caused by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). According to epigenetics research, toxic stress has the capacity to physically change a child’s brain and be hardwired into the child’s biology via genes in the DNA. The compelling nature of the impact of early adversity on later health and development has generated interest in protection against the impact of early adversity. Research highlights three interrelated “core protective systems” associated with positive adaptation. Early childhood educators are in a unique position to play a role in early identification of ACEs and to contribute to the development of protective skills. Adults within the early childhood education community can assist in increasing physical health and mental well-being for children who have encountered ACEs. Safe and healthy environments that allow the child to play, explore, and maximize his/her capacities are examples of how individual protective factors can be enhanced. Early childhood educators can support the child’s protective system by building the child’s personal attributes associated with resiliency, such as self-efficacy and self-regulation. Early childhood educators can provide a secure relationship, which is especially critical for children who have experienced trauma because it can provide extra support in times of stress. Additionally, by working collaboratively with parents, early childhood educators provide an additional layer of protection for children who experience adversity. Lastly, at the community level, early childhood educators can bring awareness to the public and private sectors by informing others of ACEs effect on early brain development and the link to later outcomes on individuals and society. Society is positively impacted when ACEs are reduced and individuals are raised in thriving families and communities.

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Correspondence to Mary A. Sciaraffa.

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Sciaraffa, M.A., Zeanah, P.D. & Zeanah, C.H. Understanding and Promoting Resilience in the Context of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Early Childhood Educ J 46, 343–353 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-017-0869-3

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Keywords

  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Trauma
  • Resilience
  • Trauma-informed
  • Protective factors